While committing words to paper is a pretty simple concept, the multitude of ways one can capture, retrieve, store and rearrange story ideas is very impressive. When I find ways to make things run more smoothly, the opportunity to spend more time actually writing than “maintaining” becomes a joy in itself.
Audio recording devices have always interested me. I have often thought that a recording device of some sort could be helpful in trying to capture those random writing ideas that seemingly hit at the least opportune moments.
When I think of prolific writer Dame Barbara Cartland who dictated to a secretary and was able to produce some 723 books and 160 unpublished works over her lifetime, I dream of how much more efficient I could be if I could incorporate some sort of dictation tool in my process.
A couple of decades ago, when I was first aware of my leaning toward creative writing, I got a good deal on a microcassette recorder. I admit that I had grand visions of capturing ideas on the run like some sort of secret agent writer. It seemed like a good idea at the time but unfortunately the only thing that ran were the batteries, as it sat in a drawer, mostly unused.
While in principle a microcassette recorder made a lot of sense, when I tried it, I felt like Cindy Brady in the “Brady Bunch” episode when she was on the show “Quiz the Kids”. When I hit the record button, I froze up. I don’t know why it is, but over the course of many attempts, I only captured a few words and the tidal wave of ideas I was hoping for produced only a mild drizzle.
Ten years ago, I tried dictation software to see if the stage fright might have passed. A good friend suggested I give it a try since the software had evolved from its earlier days and we were one step closer to a page out of “The Jetsons”. How amazing would it be to say the words and to have them all beautifully written out in front of me?
While I seemed more comfortable with the microphone this time, what caused me grief was seeing my words popping up on screen a few words behind what I had just said.
My mind was trying to move forward to logically develop an idea, but the visual distraction of seeing what was said a few words ago was slowing me down. It was like trying to drive forward but getting distracted by something happening in the rear view mirror.
So I tried looking away from the computer screen and to just let the software do its thing. When I turned back to the screen and saw a few words that I hadn’t said and that made no contextual sense whatsoever, my exasperation started to build.
I have been told that I speak pretty clearly and have been called upon to speak in public on a variety of occasions. As long as I contain my nervousness and don’t speak too fast, or lose my breath and speak like Minnie Mouse from the top of my lungs, I am not prone to mumbling or contracting my words together. So why the randomly selected words?
What was even more perplexing was trying to remember what I had said to recreate the brainstorm and to correct the text.
To try to remedy that situation, I tried speaking even more slowly with clearer delineations between words which only seemed to exasperate me more. The whole point of the software was to record the ideas in some kind of natural flow, not in having to consciously speak like a robot.
Between the clean-up work and the interruptions in my train of thought, I had to put dictation software aside, with the sincere hope that the technology would evolve further.
But along the way, the experience brought to light the fact that I am not a perfectly linear writer. I don’t write something from beginning to end, and then go back and adjust it. As much as I try to separate the writer and the editor within, to me, inspiration can strike along the way on how to make a previous sentence or idea flow better. Can dictation software keep up with my bouncing around like that?
In my mind, enough time has passed. I am probably due to try it again soon.
In a recent episode of the TV show “Madam Secretary”, I noticed reporters talking into their pens, a new spin on recording devices. I wondered if a rematch with the most current generation of recording devices and dictation software was in order.
When I launched the blog a few years ago, I was working mostly from paper and was challenging myself to work directly on the computer. It took a little more than one year, but I successfully made the transition. Today, it’s pretty rare for me print a draft blog post at some point between creation and publication.
Maybe using dictation software is the same and it just takes practice. Maybe once I start, it will find its place within my creative process. I am very hopeful.
While I certainly don’t think of myself as the next Dame Barbara Cartland, anything that can help me download the stories from my brain more efficiently will be a welcomed addition.
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